"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This lesson about community brought to you by the Super Friends!

By Del Tashlin

So what you need to know about the image above is that Apache Chief's special power is to grow very large. In fact, that's what he's best at. So even though what is likely needed to stop the Moon Monster is someone very large, Superman decides he's the best one for the job and runs off without thinking it through.

I saw this in an article and it immediately struck me that this is a problem I see in the spirit worker/shamanic demographic that drives me crazy. Most of us, in most situations involving clients, are Superman – we can do a lot of neat stuff, and be of general use, but we don't always have specific knowledge or power that can address the specific need. Or maybe we have a base knowledge of something like ordeal, but there are other colleagues out there who have training in the sort of ordeal your client requires. Maybe we're a bit bored with doing the same sorts of services over and over again, and a client with a different need poses an interesting challenge.

However, we don't refer as often as we should. In some cases, we feel like we're the only ones doing this sort of work around, and since the client is right there in front of you, it's much easier to try to serve the client yourself. There's a bit of pride involved, too, in being a good or useful shaman; how does it look if a client asks for help and our response is to say, “Well, I think I need to phone a friend...”? With whatever amount of choice we were given, we chose this path because we wanted to be of service to a community. It feel intrinsic to what we do, who we are. We might be afraid that if we refer the client to someone else, the client may decide not to follow through, and won't seek out the help they need after all.

I know I'm not faultless here. When I started offering ordeal services, the only ones I referred out were ones that wanted/required a kind of ordeal I knew I was incapable of doing, like rope bondage. But I definitely took clients who were looking for a kind of ordeal that wasn't my main focus. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with diversifying; there is a small number of us, and having more skills makes you well-rounded. However, it's also good to know that if I have no interest or aptitude in a specific kind of service, I don't have to (dangerously) fake it, or do a little online research and then take a swing at it.

I know many of us feel alone; we may work for Bosses that no one else does, or serve a specific Boss in a way/relationship that's different from the other shamans and spirit workers. Maybe you're reading this but you've never personally met someone who does the same sort of work as you. Before I met Raven Kaldera, I was doing all sorts of spirit work for myself, my Bosses, and my clients, without having a framework or name for what I was doing. I didn't know it was so rare, either. But I'm happier now that I have a functional Rolodex of people doing all sorts of things for clients, so I can offer up a bunch of names when someone is looking for a specific type of experience.

Recently, I was reading the blog of someone who has a relationship with a Deity that needs to be formalized. Although I knew this person in meat space, and had done ordeal work with them in the past, I hadn't talked about this new relationship with them, nor had they sought me out for guidance. However, their Deity downloaded what the ritual was going to look like into my head, and I knew there was a role in it that I could accomplish with ease. I took a very gentle approach with the client – I told her that no one had the right to dictate to her what her ritual should look like, and that I was happy to share the details of my vision if she was interested. When she indicated she was, I gave a dispassionate description of what I was allowed to tell her, including the part that I thought I was qualified for. When I described that part, I told her I could do it, but I also gave her the names of three other spirit workers who could as well. I didn't want to insert myself into her ritual just because I was the one who got the vision; I also didn't want to assume that she wanted to share this experience with me just because we've shared ordeal space in the past. I let her make her own decisions, because after all, it's her ritual.

I know too many spirit workers who take a different tack; I know because I frequently get their dissatisfied clients on my doorstep. They assume that because they were the conduit through which the Deity communication occurred, that means that any further work with that Deity, including the possibility of possessory interaction, is automatically the responsibility of the same spirit worker. This is just not true. You may not have the right body for the job, or whatever may transpire during the possession may jeopardize the client's ability to work with the spirit worker outside of that context again (“I'm sorry, but every time I look at you, I see Odin instead, and I just can't relate to you in any other way.”). Spirit workers also sometimes assume that they are the ones that the client needs to go through for any further communication with said Deity, or that the spirit worker is the best qualified person to dictate what the client's further actions with that Deity are. None of that is necessarily true.

It is a good thing that we have resources like this blog (however inactive it's been lately), to interact with each other and get to know the strengths and specialties each one of us brings to the table. I see nothing wrong with the fact that I have a solid network of colleagues I can refer a client to; it doesn't demean my ability or status or cool factor. It makes me a better, more capable shaman. I can do more because I can call on others to assist, either through referral or by asking someone to join me in helping the client. It means that I don't have to spend a lot of time learning a little bit about all the sorts of things a client may ask of me; I can reliably send bloodwalking clients to Elizabeth, or clients seeking magickal knowledge to Winter, or clients walking a Warrior path to Galina. I know a little about all of these things, but they are experts. As a client, I'd rather know that I was working with someone who knew their stuff, rather than whomever was most convenient. I know this isn't universal of all clients (some clients don't take referrals well, especially if it might require them to travel more than half an hour), but at the very least I'm giving them a choice, an informed choice. If proximity, or fee, or availability, or gender, or experience, is the most important factor for a client, so be it.

If, by any chance, you are reading this and you really don't know any other shamans or spirit workers, well, now you know me. And I know a really good bunch of them. So if you find yourself with a client that you feel you may not be the right person to service them, drop me an email with what the client needs and I'll do my best to make a good referral – or be honest if I don't know anyone who can help. That's a start. Another way to get to know other spirit workers is to offer to hold a spirit worker “coffee clatch” at your next pagan gathering – it doesn't have to be an informative workshop, just a place for people who do this stuff to get together and network. I usually do this under the guise of a “discussion”, where I have everyone introduce themselves and give a short synopsis of who they work for and what they do. Then I ask a bunch of questions to get people talking. At the end, I leave time for people to swap contact information and encourage them to stay in touch. Voila! More people in your Rolodex.

I also haunt a few (not many) online pagan haunts, looking for people who post things that sound like they may do spirit work. I also try to follow blogs of people who are writing about this sort of thing; especially those who are working with Deities or pantheons that I don't, or who use modalities I don't. It seems intutive to follow blogs of people who share the same experiences as you (and I'm not saying don't do that), but if you're looking to broaden your network, it's actually better to find people who are working in a completely different way.

Also, don't be afraid to bring in “contractors”. By that, I mean, people who aren't spirit workers, but who have a specific skill set that will give your client the sort of experience that they need. If Artemis wants your client to learn to bow-hunt, it doesn't have to be a spirit worker who teaches him how. If your ritual requires someone to “stand in” for a Deity, it may actually be easier if it's not you, so you can focus on walking with your client and supporting them through their experience. If a client is interested in a kind of devotional work that you don't do, it may be better for them to talk to someone who does, spirit worker or no. (For instance, I don't do prayer beads, but I know lots of pagans who do!) The contractor doesn't even need to know that this is part of some spirit-work thing; the client can manage that on their own, according to their preferences.

Being Superman isn't a bad thing. After all, Superman is very useful, and has a lot of kewl powerz that help a lot of people. However, he is only one member of the Super Friends, and sometimes the job calls for Wonder Woman, or Aquaman. Okay, so very few jobs call for Aquaman, but that's a different essay for a different blog.

Del is a child of Loki, and a neoclassical shaman who primarily works with the Norse pantheon. He teaches on a variety of subjects, from kink spirituality to devotional work. He writes a blog about his experiences with chronic illness and how it relates to his spirituality at http://www.dyingforadiagnosis.com. He can be emailed (for those referrals!) at awesome.del@gmail.com.